Commercial Madison Square Park going condo

The Flatiron District takes its name from what was once the world s tallest skyscraper, but in the revival of Madison Square Park, the still distinctive landmark may be overshadowed by the pending conversions of architecturally inspired commercial buildings into prized residential real estate.

The 12-story Gift Building at 225 Fifth Avenue will be converted to about 200 condominiums by Elad Properties, the developer tackling the conversion of The Plaza Hotel into a condominium hotel and luxury retail site. Joseph and Jacob Chetrit have similar plans for the International Toy Center, where more than 1.2 million square feet of space at 200 Fifth Ave. and 1107 Broadway will become luxury condominiums.

In what is effectively the spread of high-priced real estate east from Chelsea, north from Union Square and west from Gramercy Park, brokers are finding buyers as eager to live among impressive commercial architecture. Katherine Gauthier of Prudential Douglas Elliman said she recently broke records in the neighborhood when a client bought a loft in a non-doorman building off the park at 11 East 22nd Street for $1,226 a square foot.

“It s a very sought-after area,” she said. “It s right in the thick of things, but you re not on Park Avenue South. You walk out your front door, and it s not noisy, but you have six fabulous restaurants on your block.”

The loft has three exposures, including a view of the Sohmer Piano building, distinguished by its recently restored golden dome. There are plenty of other architectural wonders just blocks away.

In the late 19th century, the Madison Square Park area was upscale, full of hotels and theaters and surrounded by brownstone mansions. But the 50-story MetLife Tower, completed in 1909, set a commercial tone that would permeate the area for many decades.

Sandwiched between Gramercy Park and Chelsea, Madison Square Park, which had become somewhat declass since the early part of the 20th century, has perked up a bit in recent years with the arrival of five-star restaurateur Danny Meyer s Shake Shack, where a small percentage of sales go to park upkeep. Meyer operates two top restaurants, Eleven Madison Park and Tabla, right next to the park.

Though some adventurous residents began seeking out lofts in the district s industrial spaces as many as 20 years ago, brokers are still working to impress its virtues on Manhattan s young buyers.

Louise Phillips Forbes, a senior vice president at Halstead Property, said she believes the conversion of a 107-year-old Italianate neoclassical building at 50 Madison Avenue into nine units, with the addition of an eight-story tower, is kicking off a trend toward successful high-end residential in the area, especially with prices of more than $1,200 per square foot.

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“It s really refreshing to think that this little boutique building is the pioneer that is really going to change the fabric of that particular couple of blocks,” she said.

Housing conditions can change from block to block in the area, so buyers should beware. Nan Schiff, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman, said an older and superior group of lofts is located east of Fifth Avenue.

“Maybe 10 years ago, they weren t old, but now they re what I call the old loft style, which is higher ceilings, more texture inside, real pillars,” she said. “They have a wonderful feel, and they are soundproof,” unlike some of the more contemporary lofts, Schiff said.

But some modern units are bringing good prices, Phillips Forbes said. Three-bedroom apartments in buildings with doormen, such as 260 Park Avenue South, 50 Madison Avenue or 5 East 22nd Street can pull $1,250 a square foot, she said. Studios and one-bedroom apartments, which are bringing in $1,000 a square foot, remain in demand.

Besides a slew of restaurants, neighborhood retail runs the gamut from Home Depot, Gap and ABC Carpet to high-end oases like Aveda, Armani and Sephora.

Though there may be a shortage of groceries in the area, Union Square s greenmarket, the city s largest, is within walking distance, said Ken Scheff, director of sales at Stribling & Associates.

Brokers describe the populace of the Flatiron/Madison Park area as cosmopolitan, full of young professionals, couples, families and gay residents. Some locals like the area because they can obtain a chic Fifth Avenue address, said broker Leonard Steinberg of Douglas Elliman.

While condominiums in the Toy Center or the Gift Building won t be immediately available, there are some neighborhood staples that often have spaces available, for example, the Stanford on 25th Street between Madison and Park Avenues and Madison Green at 22nd Street and Broadway.

“Madison Green set a benchmark of really high pricing way back, and it s actually one of the best managed buildings Downtown,” Steinberg said. “It s famous in that it has an ATM machine in the lobby.”